Monday, June 3, 2019

Music to Gamble By

For some, it's their annual trek to Jackson Ward. For me, it's a day to hunker down and we all know I'm not the hunkering down type.

Of course I'm talking Broad Appetit, the food festival that draws bad parallel parkers, parents with enormous strollers and trashy people who don't hesitate to leave their debris on my neighborhood's sidewalks. A day that no sentient J-Ward denizen would dare move her car unless she wasn't going to return until after 6:00.

Oh, sure, I did my walk on the pipeline, carefully skirting the blocks devoted to the madness, but once back, you can be sure I spent the day at home reading the Sunday Post and my current book, Fred Astaire's memoir, "Steps in Time."

Which means that by evening, I was chomping at the bit to be among the living.

Since I was nearly at the end of my book, with plans to donate it to the neighborhood Little Free Library, I took it with me as I headed to Gallery 5 for Classical Incarnations. Since I only had a few pages left, I read as I walked the two blocks to the library. It was at the stop sign that a guy pulled up and from behind me, I heard, "Whatcha reading, sweetheart?"

Holding up my book, I explained that it was the dancer's 1959 look back at his career, although told in a pretty matter of fact manner. We were so busy chatting that neither of us noticed the car that had pulled up behind him until the driver honked.

Waving, he smiled and said, "I didn't want to bother you, but I had to ask," and drove off. I finished the final two pages standing in front of the library, deposited it for some other dance lover to enjoy and headed to Gallery 5, which, let's face it, I could walk to in my sleep.

It was a bigger crowd than I'd anticipated, so I wound up in one of the back rows where I could overhear everyone discussing their Sunday. One guy was sharing his city horror story of parking behind a car with a busted window, which apparently made him nervous enough to then move his car.

When he told the two guys he was talking to that he wasn't sure it was safe around here, I stepped in to tell him that I've lived here nearly 13 years without incident. All three marveled at that news.

Another guy was telling someone that he and his wife had tried to go to Mama J's before the show, but that there was a 50-minute wait. "Probably people from Broad Appetit still hungry," he guessed. No, sir, Mama J's is like that every single Sunday evening. Do I have to explain everything to these rubes?

And I shouldn't call them rubes because at least they were at Classical Incarnations, which is basically a classical music variety show deliberately set in a bar to make it more accessible. A small groups of musicians play, then there's a five minute break while the next act sets up and that goes on for about an hour and a half. It's an interesting (and probably less-threatening) way to enjoy classical music, plus it allows time for lots of bar breaks. Classical music without the attitude.

Let's just say that if you want to see the program, you're expected to look it up on your phone.

The evening began with a scene from the third act of a new opera, "MineRVA: Times Change," which takes place in Richmond (and opens this weekend). Labeled by our host as a blend of old and new music, one thing it wasn't was your Mama's opera. Meaning one character sung into her phone while at a coffee shop, which I'm pretty sure has never been done in an opera before.

Another sung about the app he'd created that turn thoughts into song, an app for which he was offered a billion dollars, which he turned down because he prefers that people still talk to each other. "It would be just another way to sacrifice your soul online!" he sang.

Needless to say, this guy was my hero. Accompanying the three singers were musicians from Jefferson Baroque playing guitar, harpsichord, bassoon and violin and, I gotta say, it was a distinct pleasure to hear a harpsichord played live at Gallery 5.

And just when I think I've experienced it all at my neighborhood haunt...

During the break, I heard a guy complaining that he'd wanted to hear certain bands at Broad Appetit, but after he'd eaten, they still weren't playing. So then he began drinking, but they still weren't on. "I don't know why I even went," he concluded. Um, for the food, sir?

Next up was Natalie, who'd been seated in the row next to me with her boyfriend, both of them conspicuous because of the large black "X" on their hands that precluded their drinking. She explained that it would be her last time playing Classical Incarnations because she was leaving for school in California. Sad crowd noises followed.

She was playing a Brahms piece on piano that she described as "contemplative and longing because they couldn't be together," making me wonder if it wasn't dedicated to the young man next to me as she heads off to the Left Coast.

Besides Broad Appetit, the other big topic during breaks was Galaxy Con, which had just ended a few hours earlier at the nearby Convention Center. "Whose autograph did you get? one guy quizzed another. After the guy rattled off names, his inquisitor demanded, "You didn't get John de Lancie's? What? Come on, he was in "Star Trek!"

I was half tempted to turn around and tell this guy that I not only had no clue who John de Lancie was but I'd never once seen a Star Trek movie or TV episode. The only thing that stopped me was not wanting to send him into cardiac arrest and delay the rest of the performances.

Next came a string quartet doing Schubert's "Death and the Maiden," which the cellist explained was written on the composer's deathbed. So you can see it was turning into a very upbeat evening. I kid because it was a gorgeous piece beautifully played.

Overheard during the break: a man says to his wife, "There's a line at the bathroom. Why aren't you in it?" as if she didn't know her own needs. Mansplaining of the highest order.

In an evening full of unusual performances, the next stood out. One musician played a baroque bassoon and the one in the electric blue socks played viola de gamba, an instrument I'd only learned about by going to a lecture performance at UR a few years ago. The duo was playing compositions by a little known composer named Jean Daniel Braun, or as it was explained by the bassoonist, "French dance forms with Italian names by a German composer." Now that's some melting pot for you.

The big finale involved our host, a classical guitarist, and a violinist (not incidentally, the Richmond Symphony's concertmaster) who'd chosen obscure works - because what these musicians love best about Classical Incarnations is getting to play rare pieces nobody's heard of - by Paganini. Seems the composer was part owner in a casino toward the end of his life and had composed music to be played there.

After they did three pieces, the audience rose to its feet and gave them a standing ovation. But guitarist Andrew held up a finger to indicate they had one last piece for us. Encore time, kids.

A guy in the row near me who was on his fourth glass of red wine called out, "Free Bird!" which may sound like disrespect, but it also speaks to Classical Incarnations mission: to take the starch out of classical music listening. Done!

Fortunately, the virtuosic duo did not deliver any Skynyrd, but rather one last Paganini piece to gamble by.

Walking home, I could hear the clanging of poles being dropped as the tents along Broad Street were dismantled. Parking spaces were available on every block and for the first time all day, there were no smells of cooking food. I'd made it out without once having to deal with that mess.

Best of all, no souls were sacrificed online in the making of such a lovely evening.

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